Vatican court: Butler's theft harmed pope, church

The Vatican tribunal that convicted the pope's ex-butler of stealing private papal correspondence sharply condemned the theft on Tuesday as causing "reprehensible'' damage to the pontiff, the Holy See and the entire Catholic Church, and said investigations are continuing.

The three-judge tribunal issued its written explanation of how it reached its Oct. 6 verdict against Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted of aggravated theft and sentenced to 18 months in prison, currently being served under house arrest.

Gabriele confessed to photocopying papal documents and giving them to an Italian journalist, saying Pope Benedict XVI wasn't being informed of the "evil and corruption'' around him and that he believed that exposing the problems publicly would put the church back on the right track.

The revelations of petty bureaucratic infighting, intrigue and allegations of corruption and homosexual liaisons marked the biggest Vatican security breach in modern times.

Noting what they called Gabriele's "simplistic'' intellectual capacity, the judges acknowledged that he had thought he was doing the right thing by leaking the documents. But they said Gabriele's crime was a "reprehensible'' violation of trust that damaged the pope himself and the rights of the Holy See, the Vatican City state and the entire Catholic Church.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, noted that the investigation into Gabriele remains open and that prosecutors could charge him with other crimes.

Lombardi repeated that Benedict has the authority to pardon Gabriele. On Oct. 6 Lombardi had said a papal pardon was "concrete, likely'' -- though on Tuesday he would only say it was "a possibility'' and that it wasn't known if or when a pardon might be granted. He said his choice of words Tuesday was intentional.

Prosecutors have a few more days to decide whether or not to appeal the sentence, as they can do in the Vatican. Gabriele's attorney has decided not to appeal.

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